College Student Safety: Hazing and Alcohol

According to some research, about half of all students experience or participate in hazing at some point in their college career. Sometimes people think of hazing as a “fun” ritual that all new members of a club, sports team, sorority, or fraternity experience before being welcomed into the group. The truth is far darker and more complicated. Every year, for more than 50 years – since 1970 – in the United States a college student has died as a result of hazing. More than 80% of these deaths involved alcohol in some way.

What is Hazing?

One thing that makes hazing so insidious is that it can be hard to pinpoint what it is exactly. In fact, some experts believe that out of all students who experience hazing, only about 10% of them realize what’s happening. For example, hazing can look like being required to greet senior members of an organization in a specific way. Students being forced (mentally, emotionally, or physically) to change their bodies through hair removal, temporary or permanent tattoos, and branding is hazing. Anything that is purposefully done so that someone experiences discomfort, risks injury, or is humiliated is hazing. The definition of hazing is that it includes purposeful acts that risk or cause injury, mental harm, humiliation, degradation, or compromising an individual’s sense of ethics or moral values. Forcing someone to drink alcohol or consume mind-altering substances is hazing. Currently, hazing is illegal in 44 states.

Fraternity & Sorority Hazing

One professor who studies hazing states that there were more than thirty deaths between 2007-2017 related to Greek Life hazing. Although with each death students hold vigils and authorities in charge of the schools and organizations promise reform nothing ever seems to happen to make students safer. One reason is alumni, who regularly donate money to the Greek organizations they belonged to in college and now many of whom hold positions of great power and responsibility in the outside world, look back fondly on their college days. These fond memories include hazing younger members of their fraternities or sororities. They push back against calls for reform that include enforcing anti-hazing rules and laws and making sure fraternities and sororities who break the rules are punished.

The punishment can include losing their charter to operate a Greek organization on campus. Even when the rules broken include serving alcohol to minors, powerful alumni typically fight any consequences. That doesn’t mean that schools won’t revoke charters and ban some fraternities and sororities from campus. It also doesn’t mean that individual students won’t face sanctions from the school and, especially in cases of great physical harm or underage drinking, consequences from local law enforcement agencies. It’s never okay to serve underage students. It’s also important to recognize the link between alcohol and hazing. The more people drink, the more likely they are to drop inhibitions and make terrible decisions that can have life-altering consequences for them and others.

Report Hazing

One factor that makes it very difficult for colleges and society as a whole to deal with hazing and stop the practice is that the people who experience it or witnesses are hesitant to report it. Only 5% of students who know they were hazed report the hazing to their schools or the police. Perhaps an even more concerning issue is that 25% of professors, advisors, coaches, and school administrators who know about specific hazing incidents do not report it either. Most colleges now have formalized procedures for students and employees to report issues of hazing. Some schools have even designed forms so students can report hazing anonymously from their smartphones anytime.

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